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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Ever so sleightly » » Which came first - the Three shell game or the Cups & Balls trick? (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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HerbLarry
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I'm going with shells.
What do I have to back it up?
There were shells long before cups is all.
You know why don't act naive.
djkuttdecks
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Are we to assume you mean walnuts or any shells?

-Lee
Donnie Buckley
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In my opinion, Cup and Balls came first, the shell game followed as a smaller more portable (and disposable) version of the swindle when the rubes started to travel faster via trains and steamboats.
This opinion assumes the Cups and Balls were originally a game of chance.
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Pete Biro
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Didn't the Romans use helmets first? I know for dice they used sheep's ankle bones. That's where "ROLL THEM BONES" came from.
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cupsandballsmagic
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I think I'd have to go with the shells first, seeing as cards came after small vessels. I agree with Bill's theory too (sorry Donnie!) about the gambling game coming before the cups and balls. Thinking about it, the "guess which hand" was probably the first thing, then maybe hiding a pebble etc under some kind of cover.

Bri
Bill Palmer
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I think the early versions of what we now call the cups and balls had elements of the three shell game. I discovered, when I got hold of some genuine ancient cups (not necessarily used in either "game") that if you put a ball under one of them and pushed it forward, the same thing happened with the cup as would happen with a shell.

The description in Alciphron resembles what a spectator watching a shell game might see if the operator were using more than one "pea."
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Woland
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The description in Alciphron reads to me more like the description of a magic show than a gambling operation, whether honest or dishonest. What's described is offered as an example of a spectacle that was performed in a theater. There is no mention of any wagers at all, and the events described include more than just the appearance or non-appearance of the stones under the cups. It may be that such a show was preceded historically by gambling operations, but if this is the earliest description of cups & balls, I would say that a magical entertainment preceded the shell game.

Woland
Bill Palmer
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I apologize. I was thinking more of the description in Seneca's letter to Lucillius, which is approximately 250 years prior to that of Alciphron. The performance in Alciphron is obviously theatrical. However the one in Seneca's letter is much more likely to be a street performer.

However, these early descriptions are basically irrelevant as to the origins of the trick. It had very likely been around in some form or another for at least a millennium. Take a look here, and see my logic on this http://69.89.31.132/~cupsandb/museum/ancientcups.htm
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Jonathan Townsend
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? EPISTLE XLV ?
quibbles?
...to all the coins I've dropped here
Bill Palmer
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This thread has some more information.
http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/viewt......m=133&16

Bear in mind that when we start looking at tricks that probably go back to a time before the existence of the written word, it's all basically conjecture. This is the reason that I don't claim that my hypothesis is any more than that. However, logic does bear this up.

There is no way at this time to prove one way or the other which existed first.

The whole controversy over Tomb 15 at Beni Hasan was actually started by Champollion, who was the first person of recent time to figure out how to read hieratic writing and hieroglyphics. He and his partner, Rossellini misinterpreted the pictograph. They didn't take into account the context of the wall painting. Magicians seized upon this with glee, using it to "prove" that the cups and balls existed roughly 4 millennia ago. Of course, it proves nothing of the sort.

I asked an egyptololgist in London to translate that line for me, at least the parts from the beginning of the line over to the portion where the fellows are leading the animals to slaughter. His translation made no sense at all, in any context. So, there are some egyptologists who are better at translating this material than others! No surprise here!

Dr. Stefen Taut, a friend of mine from Dresden, found a very good translation of the material in a German source. Dr. Silvia M. Rabehl presented in her doctoral dissertation a series of translations of material from these tombs. Among them was a translation of the section in question. Basically, it confirms the suspicion that those of us who make a habit of questioning authority have had, that is, that the painting in question is about bakers forming lumps of dough with moulds.

With that very famous piece going by the wayside, then we basically need to use the knowledge we have of the places that gambling developed and the historical contexts of that. I'm not going to go into any more detail about that here, because it's too long a discussion to engage in at this point.
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fortasse
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Bill :

Fascinating and illuminating thread you linked us to in your last post here. Just read it all. This is one of those cases where the jury will likely stay out to the end of time. Still, it's a fascinating subject to speculate about.

Speaking of the Shell Game, I had no idea you had so many shell game sets over at your museum. Somehow I always missed out on visiting that particular section before. Spent a lot of time there last night.

Speaking of shell games sets, I've started to collect these too. Latest acquisition : The Deacon Dan black walnut shells from Tom Bartlett. These are incredibly practical..........quite small but boy do they give you a solid grip, added to which they are completely authentic, natural shells which raise no suspicion whatever with your audience. Like everything else that Tom produces, the craftsmanship is of the most exceptional quality. Some years back, when I was big into Okito boxes, I commissioned Tom to make two engraved (and monogrammed) brass Okito boxes for me. The artistry of his engraving is outstanding in every way. He's a great guy to deal with too.

Sean
Bill Palmer
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Those are very nice shells, indeed. I had an offer to purchase some scarab shells from a UK source, but they aren't as nicely done as the ones that Black Fox did/does. They were really basically quite crude. You have to draw the line somewhere. Smile

Posted: May 5, 2011 1:54pm
Something else to consider, regarding the size of cups vs. the size of shells:

The cups that we see in early texts are not large at all, compared to the ones we use now. A stacked set of the cups that are described in Hocus Pocus, Jr., for example, would only be about 3 to 3 1/2 inches tall. A set of shells would be about half that, considering the way shells stack. If the performer made it a habit to carry all of this in a pouch, the size would almost be moot.

The origins of the shell game and the cups and balls are intertwined. I don't think there was a clear distinction between the two early on.

Much sleight of hand magic appears to be gambling methods that are used in non-gambling contexts, possibly by operators who didn't have the "pebbles" to fleece the public.
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Gary Kosnitzky
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Just a thought.
The Indian Cups and Balls is considered truly indigenous to Kerala, India. They speak of only using coconuts instead of wood or metal.
It is logical to assume this is probably so because Kerala grows more coconuts than anywhere in the world and always has.
The trick itself absolutely contains both aspects of the 'Western Cups and Balls' and also the 3 Shell game.
There are also many other things these cups can do.

There is an amazing book titled The Net of Magic by Lee Siegel. He is a Professor of Theology at the University of Hawaii and also a magician. He was funded by educational grants to research the connection between religion and Magic in India. This connection apparently goes back to the Vedic period - 3400BC.

So after reading the Net of Magic, several times and took notes, I have come to the conclusion that without a doubt the very first time a person assembled a few coconut shells and homespun cloth balls was in the Indus Valley 3000-4000 years ago. Cloth itself goes back to prehistoric times - 34000BC, so you would think after say 30,000 years someone finally made a cloth ball.
Even the itinerant Indian conjurers story about the souls ( the little cloth balls) adventure through many different realms of existence dates back to the early Vedic period -3400BC.
The more I learn about India the more I am convinced that the Europeans learned this from their expeditions to India.
I believe the first cups were not cups at all but coconut shells.
I also believe that this Indian form of cups and balls aka Cheppum Panthum is probably 3000 years old.It was used for both magical entertainment and also a gambling scam.There are many magic items that can fit in that category.
I believe the 3 shell game and the western version of the cups and balls were born from the Indus Valley and first done with coconut shells.
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Pete Biro
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VERY GOOD, GARY.
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cupsandballsmagic
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Quote:
On 2011-05-05 11:50, Bill Palmer wrote:
Those are very nice shells, indeed. I had an offer to purchase some scarab shells from a UK source, but they aren't as nicely done as the ones that Black Fox did/does. They were really basically quite crude. You have to draw the line somewhere. Smile


I'd just like to point out that the shells Bill is talking about have no connection to mine at all! Mine have been 2 years in the making and are beautifully crafted! Just mentioning this because many people know that I am also in the UK! I believe the shells Bill is talking about are still on ebay (although I was offered them on facebook so I am guessing you were too Bill.)

I should have some photos in a couple of weeks for those who are on the early bird list too.

Bri
Bill Palmer
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I forgot all about your new shells, Bri. These are definitely not Brian's work!!!!
"The Swatter"

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magicians
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Bill Palmer
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And?
"The Swatter"

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Woland
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Thank you for your kind discussion, Mr. Palmer. The only mention I can find in Seneca's letters is in Epistle XLV: "Such quibbles are just as harmlessly deceptive as the juggler's cup and dice, in which it is the very trickery that pleases me. But show me how the trick is done, and I have lost my interest therein." ("Sic ista sine noxa decipiunt quomodo praestigiatorum acetabula et calculi, in quibus me fallacia ipsa delectat. Effice ut quomodo fiat intellegam: perdidi lusum.") The term "praestigiatorum" is quite interesting. Although translated as juggler here, it also appears as the Latin title of a cynic's work on the uncovering of deceivers, false oracles, and the like.

Nothing that means this couldn't be a reference to a game in which spectators wagered against the operator, of course.

Games of chance are undoubtedly as old as can be, along with aleatory forms of divination.

I would also like to ask Mr. Kosnitzky when he thinks that the acetabula et calculi could have been brought from India to Europe.

Woland
Bill Palmer
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It's all really moot, because none of the literary references we have are anywhere near as early as the origins, themselves.

I don't think we can even begin to reason towards a single specific point of origin. It's like trying to debate who made the first dice. Examples exist in museums around the world of early dice with two sides and with four sides. We see them in Roman times with six sides. The flipped coin is basically a two-sided die.
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